Pipe bomb incident at Edmonton airport reveals flaws in screening protocols

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Skylar Vincent Murphy was caught with a bomb at Edmonton airport. Security took the device, but he was allowed on the flight

The next time you get caught trying to sneak a full-size bottle of shampoo or, say, a pipe bomb in your carry-on past baggage screeners at the airport, take comfort in the fact probably you will not miss your flight.

You're gonna get the stink eye but nothing more. You'll be on your merry way. Don't believe me? Just ask Skylar Murphy.

The 18-year-old resident of Spruce Grove, Alta., an Edmonton bedroom community, was headed to an international flight last fall when, according to court documents, the uniformed screeners employed by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) discovered black powder and a pipe bomb in his carry-on bag, The Canadian Press reports.

We're not talking about some thoughtlessly packed nail clippers or a bottle of water purchased outside the price-gouging confines of the pre-flight security cordon. It was a bomb, or at least the makings of one.

The screener confiscated Murphy's explosives but the teen was allowed to board his flight on Sept. 20.

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Now, you don't expect sirens and flashing red lights when screeners find a potential weapon. But perhaps you'd assume the owner of such contraband would be pulled aside and asked a few sharp questions.

You'd assume wrongly.

“CATSA screening officers do not have the authority to apprehend or detain passengers,” agency spokesperson Mathieu Larocque told CTV News.

Certainly, though, you'd expect police would be summoned immediately to deal with someone trying to bring explosives onto a plane. Again, you'd be wrong.

Although there is an RCMP detachment at Edmonton International Airport, it took CATSA four days to alert them.

Murphy was arrested by RCMP when he returned from his trip Sept. 27. The web site Alberta Police Report said Murphy was charged with possession of an explosive substance and released pending a court appearance.

"The RCMP investigation indicates that the charge stems from an isolated incident, and that no other individuals were involved," Sgt. Josée Valiquette said at the time.

Murphy pleaded guilty last month and was fined $100 and given a year's probation, along with a one-year ban on possessing explosives, firearms or ammunition. He was also ordered to donate $500 to the University of Alberta hospital's burn unit.

There's no explanation why Murphy tried to bring explosives on the flight and, just as important, no explanation why it took days for CATSA to alert the Mounties.

"For security reasons, I can’t go into details about our procedures at the checkpoint, which include our protocols with the police," Larocque told CTV News.

“Incidents that occur at our checkpoints are constantly being reviewed. We are constantly reviewing and updating our procedures and training to ensure that screening officers are equipped to handle all sorts of security situations.”

[ Related: Gun parts found inside stuffed animals during TSA screening ]

Clearly someone dropped the ball here. Baggage screeners aren't blase about weapons. For example, CBC News reported in 2011 that a man was arrested and charged with weapons offences after CATSA screeners in Ottawa spotted a handgun in his checked luggage.

And last year an American heading back to the U.S. was arrested and charged after trying to take a loaded .357 Magnum revolver in his carry-on at London, Ont.'s airport, QMI Agency reported.

The Texas man apparently had a permit to carry the gun at home and brought it with him to Canada while attending the World Figure Skating Championships in March. How he got it through U.S. airport screening is probably another story.

The Crown dropped the weapons charge against the 72-year-old man but kept the pistol and the man was allowed to board a flight the next day, QMI Agency reported.

Millions of dollars are being spent to minimize the threat to air travellers, who are paying for the security via a surcharge on each ticket.

But it looks like sometimes there's a disconnect when screeners actually find something.